Monday, 30 November -0001

Films sink and swim at Venice

From romance to comedy, Hollywood films conquered at the Venice Film Festival

Written by Jason Solomons

Venice is la vecchia signora of film festivals, housed in Mussolini’s old casino and where the red carpet into the Palazzo del Cinema faces the sparkling Adriatic on the wide, almost ghostly spaces of the tree-dappled Lido. Delegates arrive for morning screenings packed on vaporetti from St Mark’s; the stars come later, on polished motorboats – or on bikes along the Lungomare, past the empty beach clubs and the faded hulk of the Hotel des Bains.

But the films dance into life on the big screens, bursting with the promise of a new awards season, and the real winners are not those who take away the Golden Lion, but the Hollywood offerings which get glowing reviews that may propel them all the way to the Oscars.

In danger of fading like the Hotel des Bains, the festival has upped its game in recent years, hosting debuts for Oscar winners such as Gravity, Birdman and Spotlight. It’s where Helen Mirren began her procession as The Queen – she was barely off a red carpet for six months.

Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176This year, the musical La La Land opened the show, and I’ve been walking on air ever since. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone – both adorable – are a wannabe jazz artist and actress trying to make ends meet in LA while they chase their dreams. When they meet, eventually, there’s reason to dance and sing, which they do all over the city, on the freeway, on a studio lot, up in the canyons and at the Griffith Observatory. You’ll fall in love with the film when it arrives in the UK in January.

Big things surely lie ahead for Nocturnal Animals, too. This is Tom Ford’s follow-up to the terrific A Single Man, which debuted on the Lido in 2009 and put Colin Firth back on the map as a serious actor.

More ambitious, the new film stars Amy Adams as an icy, unhappy LA gallerist, Susan, who receives a manuscript of a novel by her ex- husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, probably the most interesting actor in Hollywood today), dedicated to her. As she begins to read it, we are transported into the action on the pages, a crackling story of a family (with the father, Tony, also played by Gyllenhaal) driven off the road by rednecks in West Texas.

Ford keeps the different levels playing off each other and both reverberate with threat and menace. We realise Edward is getting revenge of a sort through his fiction. Adams’s character has forgotten what art can do, until someone reminds her of the pain it can come from. Very good.

Frantz, from François Ozon, was a delightfully controlled period film, mainly in black and white and mainly in German, about a French soldier, Adrien (Pierre Niney, so good as Yves Saint Laurent recently), who dares to visit Germany after the First World War to lay roses on the grave of a dead friend, Frantz.

Frantz’s grieving fiancée Anna (startling German newcomer Paula Beer) spots him in the cemetery and wants to get to know him, although the other villagers can’t stomach the recent enemy in their midst. But is Anna falling for Adrien, even when she learns the truth of his visit?

Ozon handles it all very stylishly, revelling in the period details and the melodrama; it’s a bit Brief Encounter.

What else? Jude Law was very good in The Young Pope, a 10-part TV series (they showed the first two) also starring Diane Keaton as a nun. Liev Schreiber was unconvincing as bruiser Chuck Wepner in The Bleeder, while Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander fell limp as lighthouse keepers desperate for a child in The Light Between Oceans.

One of the most memorable films was Prevenge, directed by British comic actress Alice Lowe, who plays a pregnant woman whose baby urges her to commit gory – and funny – murder. With shades of Rosemary’s Baby, Taxi Driver and her own cult hit Sightseers, it was a high water mark of low-budget originality during a fine Venice vintage.

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